When Jinder Mahal beat Darren Young on WWE Superstars in late November, it was just his third win since returning to the company earlier in the year. He’d been a jobber for most of his career in WWE—on the losing end of feuds with Great Khali and Ryback, and part of Heath Slater’s 3MB, a comedy tag team act. His win on Superstars against Young came only after he’d lost to him previously.
It is now May, and Jinder Mahal is WWE Champion. It happened last night at WWE’s Backlash show, where Mahal used interference from the Singh Brothers to defeat Randy Orton and win the title.
How did we get here?
WWE played up the win as a shock, showing stunned faces in the Chicago crowd. It was a shock, but Mahal has been rocketed up the card in the last two months. He was the next-to-last competitor in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania, losing to Mojo Rawley thanks to Rob Gronkowski’s interference. Helped by his new allies, the Singh Brothers, he won a six-man match to get the title shot. Then he helped Bray Wyatt defeat Orton in the silly House of Horrors match.
And now he’s the champ. Of course, the WWE Championship is not even really the main title in the promotion anymore. Thanks to the brand split, there are two championships—one for Raw, and one for SmackDown. Raw’s WWE Universal Championship, despite being less than a year old, is pretty much the main title: It’s on the primary show, and it’s held by Brock Lesnar.
But no matter; Mahal is the champ. And the idea in making him champ, wrestling journalism guru Dave Meltzer said on his podcast last night, is all about pushing WWE in India. “The entire reason for this has nothing to do with the United States,” he said. “It’s all about the ability to merchandise him in India.”
According to Meltzer, WWE has a ton of television viewers in India, but they’re not making as much money as they want to. WWE’s social-media numbers are bigger in India than they are anywhere else, but, he says, they don’t make a ton of money off merchandise or WWE Network subscriptions there. Putting the title on Jinder Mahal is an attempt to wring more money out of India (a country of 1.3 billion people, as Mahal reminded fans last night).
Even Mahal’s “evil foreigner” promo midway through the show was not the kind of speech you would’ve heard in the 1990s from Sgt. Slaughter (an American turncoat who supported Iraq) or Yokozuna (who was billed as being from Japan despite being American). Viewed from an Indian perspective, it was a face promo.
Chicago is full of haters. America is full of haters. You people take one look at me, and hate me. You hate me for who you think I am. You hate me because of the way that I look. You hate me because of the way that I talk. I’m going to take all of that hatred and turn it into goodness. Turning it into something positive, something spiritual, something almost holy. I am truly a peaceful man, but once I am provoked I become an animal. But tonight I will turn you, a universe of doubters, a universe of discriminators, into believers. The entire world will witness what 1.3 billion people of the great country of India already know: That I am the modern day maharajah.
(Mahal and his cohorts, the Singh Brothers, are Canadian, but whatever.)
A week ago, the Hindustan Times ran an article about WWE’s attempt to push more into the market in India. WWE executive vice president Ed Wells was there, scouting for new talent. WWE just launched a new merchandise shop in India and began posting videos on YouTube with Hindi commentary. Why not, then, complete the push with a champion of Indian descent?
Okay, it also helps that Jinder Mahal made quite the physical transformation.
WWE indeed got some headlines after Mahal’s victory. Money in the Bank, the next SmackDown PPV, is on June 18th, which means someone will be winning a chance for a title shot at any time. This means Mahal’s title reign will likely be short. But WWE hopes it will be profitable.